The Harry Potter games have undergone a lot of changes over their 10 years of development. From the cartoon-like Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone way back in 2001 to the gritty and dark recent titles, there has been a radical shift in gameplay. Can the latest addition, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 manage to escape the criticism of its predecessor and conclude the series on a high?
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 sticks closely to its source material and picks up where the previous instalment left off. Harry, Ron and Hermione are still attempting to track down Lord Voldemort’s Horcruxes. What follows are a few short levels that take place in Gringotts Wizarding Bank and the town of Hogsmeade before the remainder of the action centres on the siege of Hogwarts. If none of the above makes any sense to you, then don’t expect the game to explain any of it.
The story is skimmed over at such a breakneck pace that anything less than a good prior knowledge of the books or films will leave you utterly lost. Even as a fan of the series the constant chopping and changing of locations and events is disappointing. Significant parts of the story are skimmed over and often reduced to throwaway single lines of dialogue. It doesn’t make the game very involving and seems more of a whirlwind tour of certain events than a coherent narrative.
The gameplay itself is just as disappointing and feels oddly ill-fitting. Much of the game is spent in cover-based third-person battles, where wands and spells replace guns and bullets. It feels like an unashamed rip-off of Gears of War and the slew of other similar titles that dominate the market. It would be easy to suggest that the developers had taken a cynical approach and created the game in order to capitalise on an in vogue genre rather than choose one which most fitted.
The dark and violent nature of this last chapter certainly has a lot of combat in it and you’ll spend a lot of your time hiding behind small, waist-high walls before popping out and firing off a few spells. Much of this is against hordes of identical Death Eaters who often just simply walk towards you and may occasionally use a shield spell which adds some marginal degree of difficulty. Harry and his chums are equipped with a handful of spells, which reflect the standard “weapons” of third-person shooters. There’s a basic attack, a rapid-fire variant, an area-effect spell, a powerful single hit shot and a few more.
Another basic spell that forms a core part of gameplay is the Protego charm that creates a defensive shield that can reflect attacks and protect you from damage. This is surprisingly useful and can get you out of some difficult situations on the harder difficulties where the enemy damage is ramped up significantly. Fortunately the dark wizard’s AI is usually rather poor and any attempts by them to flush you out of cover are usually obvious and painfully easy to avoid.
Often battles boil down to finding a good place to hide, then fighting a rather dull war of attrition until the evil wizards stop apparating into the combat. Your spells cannot be spammed constantly as the more you hammer the attack button, the wilder your aim gets, meaning short, controlled bursts are the most effective. This mechanic draws out fights and sometimes feels a little frustrating, especially when you are being swamped by ridiculous numbers of enemies. By the end of the game we had “incapacitated” over 1,000 dark wizards, which felt totally out of synch with the source material. I struggle to recall any scenario from the books where Harry and his school friends annihilated more Death Eaters than you could cram into the Hogwarts’ Great Hall.
There is a little variation in the gameplay including some sections where you are chased by various forms of instant death (fire, water, smoke, an angry J. K. Rowling) and must escape while slowing them down. Instead of spicing up the action, they are more frustrating as they’re so infrequent that they take a few tries to adjust to. Mixed in with these chases are some fairly routine boss fights that boil down to strafing and spamming attacks. Even worse are a few escort missions and protection sequences that really feel dated and dreary.
As the title progresses you are frequently placed in the shoes of other key characters including Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Neville and several others, presumably as their actors were cheaper to hire for voiceover work. This makes absolutely no different to the gameplay as they all have access to the exact same set of spells. This can be particularly illogical as early on in the game you control Professor McGonagall, a teacher, who bizarrely doesn’t know essential spells. The reason for this is at this stage they aren’t unlocked, which just feels like a very lazy decision on the part of the developers.
Even these attempts to add variety fall short and too often Deathly Hallows – Part 2 gets tired and feels repetitive. Especially towards the end of the game, the developers just throw larger and larger amounts of enemies at you, that all can be dispatched in the same way. This feels like a particularly cheap way of extending the lifespan and turns what should be an epic conclusion into a rather tedious anticlimax. The story itself only takes a paltry 4 to 5 hours to complete and only consists of 12 chapters, which is really rather shocking for a fully priced retail release.
There are a handful of collectables littered throughout the game with the majority of them quite easy to find. These unlock good and evil characters which can then be viewed in an extras menu. Alternatively some collectables are music pieces from the game’s soundtrack which are available to play in a viewer. It’s a meagre and disappointing selection of bonus content and feels like a hasty addition to try and desperately add some extra value to the game.
The final type of collectable unlocks challenges that are a real letdown. Challenges consist of playing through the exact same chapters from the main story but in a time attack mode. You can receive bonuses by scoring knockdowns, quick stuns and other skill-based spell attacks to reduce your overall time. This feels like a primitive and underdeveloped addition which is not only as flawed as the main game, but even more dull and repetitive.
When you consider that the graphics, character animations and voice acting are all distinctly average, there really is little to set this apart other than the novelty of the Harry Potter licence and that it’s a third-person “magic shooter”. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 is too short, repetitive and dull, even for fans of the series. It’s a clichéd, by-the-numbers experience with barely any fresh ideas. When you add the incredibly limited replay value and repetitive gameplay into the equation the package is even less appealing. Sadly, this last Harry Potter game seems to have had the life sucked out of it in the same way as a Dementor performs a kiss.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
Minor enjoyable interactions, but on the whole is underwhelming.
The Harry Potter games have undergone a lot of changes over their 10 years of development. From the cartoon-like Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone way back in 2001 to the gritty and dark recent titles, there has been a radical shift in gameplay.